A few weeks ago I had an exchange on Twitter. It came during the often contentious debate over public education funding in Alamance County, it was a fight the pro-education folks – let’s call them the “good guys” – lost by a whisker to forces that, well let’s face it, have a stake in forging a more ignorant voting public. I wouldn’t exactly call them “bad guys,” just short-sighted people who want to get elected and will service the lowest public denominator to do so. The future doesn’t seem to interest them much. Welcome to modern American politics.
After this unfolded in the public arena, namely the Alamance County Board of Commissioners, I posted a link to my blog about the disappointing vote on Twitter with this comment: “In Alamance County the beat goes on and on and on …”
“Thanks for your support. You seem to be well aware of the battle we face in Alamance Co. Public Ed. Ever given thought to elected office?
And I replied:
“Thanks. The thought of running leaves me soaked in cold sweat. But … you never know.”
Then a third person responded:
“Start your campaign and my front yard has a spot for a sign when they are ready.”
And then I breathed a sigh and let it go. But not long after that exchange I got this private message on Twitter:
“If good candidates won’t run for office what hope do we have?”
And then I sighed again.
This played out in early June. Fast forward to about two weeks ago. I was having a conservation with a friend of mine and the discussion turned to politics today in not just Alamance County but North Carolina and the nation. I related my Twitter exchange about running for the Alamance County Board of Commissioners. I said for years I couldn’t really run for anything because as a newspaper journalist it would present a huge conflict of interest. I would have to resign to run. And if I left my job, well, I couldn’t afford to hold office. It was a relatively pleasant conundrum.
Today, though, the situation is far different. I’m no longer in the media. So I’m free to seek any office I choose. My longtime friend and colleague Tim Chandler, in fact, is doing exactly that. He worked for me as a sports writer in the 1990s and later moved to Roxboro where he became editor of the newspaper there. He retired from journalism at roughly the same time I did. Last month he filed to run for the Roxboro City Council.
But I won’t take the plunge, even though I certainly can. In fact, I won’t even consider it.
Well, the simple answer is that losing a race for county commissioner would be an insurmountable ego-decimating event that would likely put me on a cocktail of Prozac, Zoloft, Schlitz Malt Liquor and psychedelic mushrooms for at least a decade. How else to reconcile being less popular than some of the office holders now out there?
OK, that’s only a joke, sort of.
The real answer, though, is much more complicated, yet oddly direct. Here it is:
I refuse to join either of the two major political parties. In fact, I wouldn’t sign on with the Democrats or Republicans at gunpoint. And I won’t ever unless both make radical changes in how they conduct business, the people they elect and the philosophy honed over the last two decades of simply stating that the other side is wrong. Truthfully, the obstructionism exhibited by both has now degenerated to the point that merely saying the other guys are wrong has become the most polite level of exchange the two groups have.
Political partisanship has fractured this nation and led to the two major political parties offering the poorest choices imaginable to seek office — and this is at nearly all levels, but most obvious nationally. And part of this equation is the removal from the process of people like me — those voters engaged in the process who are simply sick of the bullshit that is dragging the country to ruin.
More people register unaffiliated or Independent every day. Many if not all want to remove themselves from the Democrats and Republicans at the center of all the mindless bickering. Most if not all were at one time Republicans and Democrats. These are all people who should be eligible to seek elected office and are likely very qualified to serve and do so intelligently and effectively. They are potential difference-makers in communities across the nation.
But they don’t want to be controlled by party hacks, PAC money, lobbyists and special interest groups. They don’t wish to support a party when its goals go sideways just to support a party. A political party in the wrong remains wrong no matter how much its partisan base mindlessly goes along for the ride. And unlike President Donald Trump, they don’t wish to switch parties whenever the mood strikes or opportunity arises.
So there is a growing number of the unaffiliated who also understand that it’s impossible to win a partisan race in the United States without joining the Republicans, Democrats or a party that has yet to make a significant imprint on the American consciousness.
I haven’t asked Tim but my guess is that he chose to run for Roxboro City Council because he loves his town but also because the race is non-partisan. It’s the only kind of political office I might consider. But I also know that state legislatures are busy trying their best to turn all non-partisan elections into partisan affrays. In other states, city council, mayoral and board of education races are often partisan. It’s a shame.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a newspaper reader years and years ago — probably before the turn of the century. I was working as managing editor of the Daily News in Jacksonville, NC. A woman who just moved to the town of Holly Ridge called to complain that our stories about the election for town council didn’t note the party affiliation of the candidates.
“That’s because it’s a non-partisan election,” I told her.
“Well that’s stupid,” she said. “How do I know who to vote for?”
Irony, it’s a beautiful thing.
I believe that until the Republicans and Democrats clean their houses and remove the clutter and clatter, more people will remove themselves from taking an active part in the process. And we’ll continue to get the kind of candidates we don’t want to put in office.